Pop and academic science with a dose of self-help, all rolled up into a satisfying package.

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BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

THE UNCONSCIOUS REASONS WE DO WHAT WE DO

Must humans be stupid and wrongheaded? Not if they take greater pains to shape their environments and understand what’s going on inside their heads.

The human mind lives in the past, present, and future all at once, writes Bargh (Psychology/Yale Univ.; co-editor: Oxford Handbook of Human Action, 2009, etc.), and it may not be trustworthy in any of those temporal dimensions. If we form decisions in less than the wink of an eye, our hidden assumptions, prejudices, and interpretations mean “that ‘blink’ responses are in fact considerably more fallible than many of us think.” Sometimes those hidden aspects of mind are just this side of inexplicable; why, for instance, should someone who, fearing the flu, cleans his or her hands form a more positive view of immigration than someone whose hands remain unwashed? If anything, writes the author, such things suggest that we are wrong to think that “our thinking emerges only from rational principles and ideologies.” As Bargh notes, given the monstrous thinking that so many children soak up from so many adults, it’s a wonder that we can live in the world at all. It’s refreshing that after so much biology-oriented neuroscience, the author isn’t afraid to look at the nurture side of the nature/nurture divide. So it is that people can be trained to change their minds: to examine and retool biases and snap judgments as if acquiring a new good habit—no stretch there, for Bargh observes that just as smoking has been reduced by making environmental changes that make it harder to smoke, it’s possible to alter environments to make people cultivate better habits of mind. “If you want to be less racist and sexist,” he writes, “then use implementation intentions such as ‘When I see a person of color, I will remind myself to be fair!’ ” That may seem a touch Pollyannaish, but it’s backed by interesting science and experimental findings, all ably reported.

Pop and academic science with a dose of self-help, all rolled up into a satisfying package.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0121-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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